Chris Hedges: Woke Imperialism

Diversity is important. But when it is devoid of a political agenda it recruits a tiny segment of those marginalized by society into unjust structures to help perpetuate them. 

Identity Politics – by Mr. Fish.

By Chris Hedges

The brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by five Black Memphis, Tennessee,  police officers should be enough to implode the fantasy that identity politics and diversity will solve the social, economic and political decay that besets the United States. Not only are the former officers Black, but the city’s police department is headed by Cerelyn Davisa Black woman. None of this helped Nichols, another victim of a modern-day police lynching.

The militarists, corporatists, oligarchs, politicians, academics and media conglomerates champion identity politics and diversity because it does nothing to address the systemic injustices or the scourge of permanent war that plague the U.S. It is an advertising gimmick, a brand, used to mask mounting social inequality and imperial folly. It busies liberals and the educated with a boutique activism, which is not only ineffectual but exacerbates the divide between the privileged and a working class in deep economic distress. The haves scold the have-nots for their bad manners, racism, linguistic insensitivity and garishness, while ignoring the root causes of their economic distress. The oligarchs could not be happier.

Did the lives of Native Americans improve as a result of the legislation mandating assimilation and the revoking of tribal land titles pushed through by Charles Curtis, the first Native American vice president? Are we better off with Clarence Thomas, who opposes affirmative action, on the Supreme Court, or Victoria Nuland, a war hawk in the State Department? Is our perpetuation of permanent war more palatable because Lloyd Austin, an African American, is the secretary of defense? Is the military more humane because it accepts transgender soldiers? Is social inequality, and the surveillance state that controls it, ameliorated because Sundar Pichai — who was born in India — is the CEO of Google and Alphabet? Has the weapons industry improved because Kathy J. Warden, a woman, is the CEO of Northop Grumman, and another woman, Phebe Novakovic, is the CEO of General Dynamics? Are working families better off with Janet Yellen, who promotes increasing unemployment and “job insecurity” to lower inflation, as secretary of the treasury? Is the movie industry enhanced when a female director, Kathryn Bigelow, makes “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is agitprop for the C.I.A.? Take a look at this recruitment ad put out by the C.I.A. It sums up the absurdity of where we have ended up.

Colonial Regimes 

March 4, 1925: Sen. Charles Curtis (right) with President Calvin Coolidge and Grace Coolidge on their way to the Capitol building on Inauguration Day. (National Photo Company, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Colonial regimes find compliant indigenous leaders — “Papa Doc” François Duvalier in HaitiAnastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran — willing to do their dirty work while they exploit and loot the countries they control. To thwart popular aspirations for justice, colonial police forces routinely carried out atrocities on behalf of the oppressors. The indigenous freedom fighters who fight in support of the poor and the marginalized are usually forced out of power or assassinated, as was the case with Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba and Chilean president Salvador Allende. Lakota chief Sitting Bull was gunned down by members of his own tribe, who served in the reservation’s police force at Standing Rock.

If you stand with the oppressed, you will almost always end up being treated like the oppressed. This is why the F.B.I., along with Chicago police, murdered Fred Hampton and was almost certainly involved in the murder of Malcolm X, who referred to impoverished urban neighborhoods as “internal colonies.” Militarized police forces in the U.S. function as armies of occupation. The police officers who killed Tyre Nichols are no different from those in reservation and colonial police forces.

Nov. 27, 2015, protest march against the police killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago.(SHYCityNXR, Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0)

We live under a species of corporate colonialism. The engines of white supremacy, which constructed the forms of institutional and economic racism that keep the poor poor, are obscured behind attractive political personalities such as Barack Obama, whom Cornel West called “a Black mascot for Wall Street.” These faces of diversity are vetted and selected by the ruling class. Obama was groomed and promoted by the Chicago political machine, one of the dirtiest and most corrupt in the country.

“It’s an insult to the organized movements of people these institutions claim to want to include,” Glen Ford, the late editor of The Black Agenda Report told me in 2018. “These institutions write the script. It’s their drama. They choose the actors, whatever black, brown, yellow, red faces they want.”

Ford called those who promote identity politics “representationalists” who “want to see some Black people represented in all sectors of leadership, in all sectors of society. They want Black scientists. They want Black movie stars. They want Black scholars at Harvard. They want Blacks on Wall Street. But it’s just representation. That’s it.”

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The toll taken by corporate capitalism on the people these “representationalists” claim to represent exposes the con. African-Americans have lost 40 percent of their wealth since the financial collapse of 2008 from the disproportionate impact of the drop in home equity, predatory loans, foreclosures and job loss. They have the second highest rate of poverty at 21.7 percent, after Native Americans at 25.9 percent, followed by Hispanics at 17.6 percent and whites at 9.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department for Health and Human Services. As of 2021, Black and Native American children lived in poverty at 28 and 25 percent respectively, followed by Hispanic children at 25 percent and white children at 10 percent. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s homeless are African-Americans although Black people make up about 14 percent of our population. This figure does not include people living in dilapidated, overcrowded dwellings or with family or friends due to financial difficulties.  African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of white people.

Cynical Moral Superiority 

Identity politics and diversity allow liberals to wallow in a cloying moral superiority as they castigate, censor and deplatform those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech. They are the new Jacobins. This game disguises their passivity in the face of corporate abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war and the curtailment of civil liberties. They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic injustice. They seek to make the ruling class more palatable. With the support of the Democratic Party, the liberal media, academia and social media platforms in Silicon Valley, demonize the victims of the corporate coup d’etat and deindustrialization. They make their primary political alliances with those who embrace identity politics, whether they are on Wall Street or in the Pentagon. They are the useful idiots of the billionaire class, moral crusaders who widen the divisions within society that the ruling oligarchs foster to maintain control. 

High-ended retailer Saks Fifth Avenue added private security, fencing and barbed wire ahead of a Black Lives Matter protest, June 7. 2020. (Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Diversity is important. But diversity, when devoid of a political agenda that fights the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed, is window dressing. It is about  incorporating a tiny segment of those marginalized by society into unjust structures to perpetuate them. 

A class I taught in a maximum security prison in New Jersey wrote “Caged,” a play about their lives. The play ran for nearly a month at The Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey, where it was sold out nearly every night. It was subsequently published by Haymarket Books. The 28 students in the class insisted that the corrections officer in the story not be white. That was too easy, they said. That was a feign that allows people to simplify and mask the oppressive apparatus of banks, corporations, police, courts and the prison system, all of which make diversity hires. These systems of internal exploitation and oppression must be targeted and dismantled, no matter whom they employ. 

My book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison, uses the experience of writing the play to tell the stories of my students and impart their profound understanding of the repressive forces and institutions arrayed against them, their families and their communities. You can see my two-part interview with Hugh Hamilton about Our Class here and here.

August Wilson’s last play, “Radio Golf,” foretold where diversity and identity politics devoid of class consciousness were headed. In the play, Harmond Wilks, an Ivy League-educated real estate developer, is about to launch his campaign to become Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor. His wife, Meme, is angling to become the governor’s press secretary. Wilks, navigating the white man’s universe of privilege, business deals, status seeking and the country club game of golf, must sanitize and deny his identity. Roosevelt Hicks, who had been Wilk’s college roommate at Cornell and is a vice president at Mellon Bank, is his business partner. Sterling Johnson, whose neighborhood Wilks and Hicks are lobbying to get the city to declare blighted so they can raze it for their multimillion dollar development project, tells Hicks: 

“You know what you are? It took me a while to figure it out. You a Negro. White people will get confused and call you a nigger but they don’t know like I know. I know the truth of it. I’m a nigger. Negroes are the worst thing in God’s creation. Niggers got style. Negroes got. A dog knows it’s a dog. A cat knows it’s a cat. But a Negro don’t know he’s a Negro. He thinks he’s a white man.”

Terrible predatory forces are eating away at the country. The corporatists, militarists and political mandarins that serve them are the enemy. It is not our job to make them more appealing, but to destroy them. There are amongst us genuine freedom fighters of all ethnicities and backgrounds whose integrity does not permit them to serve the system of inverted totalitarianism that has destroyed our democracy, impoverished the nation and perpetuated endless wars. Diversity when it serves the oppressed is an asset, but a con when it serves the oppressors.

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning NewsThe Christian Science Monitor and NPR.  He is the host of show “The Chris Hedges Report.”

Author’s Note to Readers: There is now no way left for me to continue to write a weekly column for ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show without your help. The walls are closing in, with startling rapidity, on independent journalism, with the elites, including the Democratic Party elites, clamoring for more and more censorship. Bob Scheer, who runs ScheerPost on a shoestring budget, and I will not waiver in our commitment to independent and honest journalism, and we will never put ScheerPost behind a paywall, charge a subscription for it, sell your data or accept advertising. Please, if you can, sign up at so I can continue to post my Monday column on ScheerPost and produce my weekly television show, “The Chris Hedges Report.”

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16 comments for “Chris Hedges: Woke Imperialism

  1. Dozer
    February 7, 2023 at 23:57

    I like this piece from Chris, maybe one of his best “short” articles. I worked on diversity and inclusion for 5 years in the government, and still work around it. I am Caucasian. I believe that I understand many of the issues involved, as best I can (though I don’t walk in “their” shoes, to be sure, and am not saying that I can). But what always bothered me, and is highlighted by this piece, is that “diversity and inclusion” is not an end to itself. Just appointing so many “minorities” to a position does not change the game. It may look good, and may give some people an advancement, but it does not necessarily lead to a structural change. To say this a better way, and I hope it does not offend, the sports world (NFL, NBA, etc.) promoted black coaches (say Tomlin from the Steelers) and quarterbacks and so forth (the Super Bowl will highlight two very talented black quarterbacks, like Mahomes and Hurts). All good. They will use their skills to achieve something. But simply putting “placeholders” in government, to echo the “official” narrative of the military-industrial complex or the “rulers,” is just a joke. These minority appointments look like puppets. This is not diversity in action. It is fraud.

  2. John Zeigler
    February 7, 2023 at 21:51

    Chris Hedges: so very good and insightful, as usual. He rings the bell. Who is listening?

  3. SH
    February 7, 2023 at 16:36

    Well, Chris, someone finally “coming out” to take a stab at “identity politics” – I would further “dissect” that to include what seems to be a never ending chain of variants of “identities”, “intersecting” with each other, such that eventually each of us will have our very own unique “identity”, which “intersects” with various other “identities” – in introducing ourselves it will then take longer to describe our identities than to say our names – which we may change to match our “identity” and then request (require) others to use certain words to describe us …

    We seem to want to highlight, emphasize, identify with, just about any and every particular feature, “fact”, about ourselves – except, IMO, the most important, most fundamental one – being human – it seems to me a much more efficient way of doing this would be for everyone to wear a T-shirt with the names of their “identities” on it – that way one could see at a glance whether one’s identity is “compatible” or “intersects” with that of another – Nike, move over ..

    The irony is, each of us is already unique, from the day we were born – even “identical twins” are not truly “identical” – we already have infinite diversity, simply as persons, but apparently that’s not enough – I think our main problem, at this point, is not in not emphasizing, nor “respecting”, our differences, but failing to emphasize, and draw upon, the strength of, our commonalities

    I dunno, but it seems to me human relations are difficult enough without making distinctions based on, what, exactly … but as Chris says, when one asks “cui bono”, the answer is clear – those who will do their darnedest to keep us from getting together in numbers enough to take back what belongs to us – our humanity, which is receding even as we speak ..

    I think this is a Gordian Knot issue – we stand around a big ball of twine, getting bigger all the time, trying to figure out how to “undo” it, even as we add more strands – when we could undo it by whacking it with a sword of simple truth – we are not separate, in the sense of being apart, from each other, we are all members of one race, the human race – we all have the same basic needs and many, if not most, are suffering from the depredations of a system that puts profit before people – and those “depredators” are quite well served when we keep multiplying “identities”, who seem to want to insist that each is more “disproportionally” negatively affected – and i keep wondering, if a serious wrong is done, is it wrong because it is done “disproportionally” to one group, or is it wrong because it is done to any human being …

  4. shmutzoid
    February 7, 2023 at 14:16

    The whole point of identity politics is to divert attention away from class issues. It is a campaign – not a movement – to divide social solidarity behind a strictly racialist narrative. We are meant to see ONLY each others skin color. ——- When police kill a white person in a traffic stop or mental health check, there’s practically no publicity about it. Why? It doesn’t fit the racialist narrative – police violence in s’posed to be only about racism. When four black police officers killed a black man (Tyre Nichols), there was an “oops, how do we spin this one” moment from Dem politicos. Policing, at its core, is an instrument of class control. Victims of police violence may be white, black or brown, but, what they nearly all have in common is being in the lower socio-economic range.

    BLM, kickstarted with a $100million grant from the Ford Foundation is not a bottom up movement. It is a top down campaign with the purpose of trapping social anger and re-directing it to the confines of the Dem Party for, er, ‘solutions’.

  5. D.H.Fabian
    February 7, 2023 at 14:01

    Even the best-intentioned remain misguided by the well-marketed themes. Media work hard to reframe our deep divisions in terms of “the 1% vs the 99%,” or “the ruling class vs. the working class.” This continues to skew public perceptions, and in doing so, ensures that we remain powerless. Years of work went into pitting us against each by class to ensure that this time, there can be no mass protest movement. The US remains middle class vs. poor, workers vs. those left jobless, while the ruling class sits back comfortably. Since the days of Reagan’s deregulation mania, job losses far surpassed job gains. Millions are jobless today, many with $0 incomes. The point to remember that so many of us don’t see improving conditions for the more fortunate alone as an urgent priority.

  6. Em
    February 7, 2023 at 13:09

    Am I completely selfless in my concern for others’ well-being? Can one truly care for others without first caring for the self?
    Yet primarily caring for the self alone is also the root of all hypocrisy!
    I, as I am, at any given moment, is the sole vortex of my unique core, the soul of being throughout the infinite journey, in space-time.
    To reference Spinoza: This is the nature/god in each and everyone of us, without exception.
    The mere idea of a social hierarchy is a construct of the hypocritical element in the nature of the human mind.
    This is THE ultimate historical conundrum: the perplexing question.
    It is the consciousness or lack thereof in cognition, as opposed to the blind reactive nature of instinct in the individual, for self-preservation.
    Without cooperation there can be no universal community.
    If history has not taught by now that the inculcated avarice of each for his/her self-preservation leads to perpetual war, then no lesson will save us, in time, from ourselves as a species.
    The moment of apocalyptic truth for humanity approaches; with the speed of unconstrained, out of control scientific and technological fusion, without the blink of an eye..

  7. michael888
    February 7, 2023 at 11:41

    MLK Jr, Fred Hampton and Malcolm X figured it out near the end of their lives. Civil rights cannot be divided by races and identity politics. Poor people, regardless of race, need help and organizing poor people of all stripes (such as Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition) and deviating from their narrow Black civil rights resulted in their assassinations. Class distinctions are not allowed. The Elite are always at war with the Poor and Working Class, no matter their qualifications.

    Instead the US went with tokenism/ representation for the lucky few. Some it is true, advanced due to merit and opportunities not afforded in the past. But these deserving face the stigmatism of others unqualified. Perhaps they are no worse than the nepotism products and connected wealthy who advance without merit (an American legacy), but the US just added another problem set to an already dysfunctional system.

  8. February 7, 2023 at 11:22

    Whom do you mean by “our”, Mr. Hedges?

  9. February 7, 2023 at 11:12

    The goal of an equitable and just society is equality of opportunity regardless of inherent characteristics such as race, gender, nationality, religion, etc., and the goal of those who really seek to attain an equitable and just society is to minimize unfounded prejudice, not to see how many votes they can squeeze out of victimized populations by maintaining them victimized and generating as much polarization as possible. The latter describes the purportedly woke, the cancel culture warriors, the virtue signalers and the naïve pseudo liberals and pseudo progressives who do the Deep State’s bidding, the purported anti-war activists who promoted conflict in the Ukraine and who now seek conflict with China as well, and the unfortunate African Americans trapped in political slavery within the Democratic Party who are told that failure to support all Democrats means that they are not really Black. The road to attaining an equitable and just society and minimizing unfounded prejudice is through empathy, understanding and love, not through polarizing ridicule and calumny and political posturing.

  10. Packard
    February 7, 2023 at 09:08

    Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Affirmative Action are all merely politically convenient euphemisms used for justifying mediocrity in government, in the workplace, and in the academy.

    We all learn early on to smile and nod when we encounter the recipients of such policies, but make no mistake. No one with means ever entrusts their own wealth, their own property, their own legal representation, their own healthcare, their own personal safety, or their own child’s education to someone hired based on skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. Such things are never done by those with means. Everyone else, however…well that is just a different matter entirely.

    [File under: Ignore what America’s power elites say, but watch very closely what they actually do in things that concern them most.]

  11. J Anthony
    February 7, 2023 at 08:04

    I remember so many believing back in 2008 that because we elected a half-black POTUs, that this was evidence that we had truly become a “post-racial” country, that the demons of white supremacy had finally lost, that progress was being made….oh how wrong they were. Lest we forget, the election of Obama drove the bigots and racists insane, as they wouldn’t shut up about the “homosexual Muslim socialist/antiChrist” in the WH. Also, that was when Trump made his big play, shrewdly assessing that it would be all-too-easy to exploit the situation by playing that angle to the hilt (the “birther” movement? Show us your birth certificate?)….Trump kicked that rock over and encouraged all the rightwing nationalists to come out and play, guns literally blazing, and it paid off for him in 2016. Looking back, which is the only way USAmericans are ever able to understand anything, it seems, that is, years after the fact, this is undeniable. To this day he dog-whistles the hell out of it- in fact you might say he doesn’t even hide it anymore. But Trump aside, the Democrats dug their own hole here as they continue to stress identity-politics at any and all levels, as Hedges notes here, as it works in asuperficial way, giving the appearance of progress where there is none. On the flip-side, the neofascist Republicans have their own brand of identity-politics, the other side of the same rotten coin. How long will people fall for this tripe?

    • D. H. Fabian
      February 7, 2023 at 14:11

      One catch: Decades of research have consistently shown that most voting choices come down to economic issues, not race/age/gender. “Are you better off?” NAFTA, TPP, job losses far surpassed job gains, Dems ended relief for those left jobless, and middle classers today have no cognizance of the consequences.

      • Susan Siens
        February 7, 2023 at 16:44

        The Democrats now manage to get reelected after outrageous inflation, after openly supporting Nazism, while being enthusiasts for pedophiles and other sexual predators. Talk about PR!

  12. Rudy Haugeneder
    February 6, 2023 at 23:49

    Ditto. But the oppressed smile at the Obama’s of the world, and think things are finally going their way. For a minority (pun intended) that’s true. For the rest: Oops. Ditto.

  13. Sam F
    February 6, 2023 at 19:35

    Superbly written and well considered by Chris Hedges, as always.
    Diversity is better than not, but easily disguises tyranny and advances tribalism.
    Education has not advanced with technology, and no longer produces civilization.
    Corruption is the ideal of the middle and upper classes, who proclaim money=virtue.
    The corporate and military factions recruit opportunists and delude boob tubers.
    False claims of high principles are the robes of corruption.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    February 6, 2023 at 17:06

    BLM cared very little about class based politics or anti-imperialism. I even saw a few BLM signs and murals lauding Obama for crying out loud.

    BLM was little more than a Soros play thing to get rid of Trump.

    And remember how the big bad pandemic suddenly wasn’t contagious anymore once the ID politics obsessed BLM — complete with massive funding from Wall St parasites and the Fortune 500 — hit the streets in droves, thousands of people on top of one another.

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